Do Coastal Wine Regions Rule The Waves?

In general we think of the wine trade as a very traditional industry dominated by Western European culture where experience and time-honoured practices rule the roost, but shifts in consumer trends are becoming increasingly brisk. Many of the latest changes are fuelled by the Millennial Generation who are on a voyage of discovery, searching out new wines and styles faster than any other generation.

In the past couple of years we’ve seen a swing towards approachable sparkling wines, lower alcohol, the subtle use of oak, sustainability and a flurry of new regions from the Lebanon to India.

Producers, importers and retailers have had to review how they share wine.  One recent bid to change the way wines are communicated really caught my eye.

In late 2013 Wines of Chile passed a law to allow an additional description to their designated areas of origins. The new law meant you can add the words Costa, Entre Cordilleras or Andes to the label if the wines were from the ‘coast’, the ‘plains’ or the ‘Andes’.  The Chilean wine industry came up with the idea after looking at the climatic differences in the three zones and how it had an impact on the character of the wine.

The zones largely reflect the three established climate categories for wine growing: Maritime, Mediterranean Continental.  There may not be anything revolutionary about classifying the climate where the wine is grown but I think it is an interesting action that could change the way people relate to the wines.

There was some disgruntlement regarding the ‘plains’ classification. The bit in the middle lacked the emotional connection of the other two extremes perhaps? Alternatively, it may be that the new coastal areas in Chile are causing a bit of stir as they produce the aromatic, lighter styles that quench the thirst of the new generation wine drinker.

Cool climate coastal wines are hot at the minute but are coastal climates a real advantage?

The milder temperatures on the coast are caused by the cooling winds coming off the cold ocean currents. As the air travels from the coast across the land, the temperature of the land changes the temperature of the air – warming it in summer and cooling it in winter. The result is that coastal vineyards do not experience the same temperature variations as the inland vineyards.  A variety of other influences can have an effect on the vines; some positive, some negative. One example is coastal fog. Out at sea the water content of the air is high.

Near the coast the temperature drops and as cold air doesn’t hold water as well, the water held in the air changes to a liquid causing a fog. The fog can help the vines by protecting them from the hot summer sun, giving the grapes a longer growing period. Planted in the wrong location and the fog can contribute to rot.

The sea air can also give a salty edge to the flavour of the wine while many coastal areas have mineral rich soils that impart interesting textures and aromas to the wine. (A perfect example of this is the wine from Santorini we tried in our tasting overleaf).

The benefit to the grapes of this longer growing period, which can be up to 30-45 days longer, is a better balance between this acidity and sugar. This helps retain aromatics and flavours and stops excessive alcohol in the wine which can in turn dull the aromas. People often talk about cooler climate wines being more poised or elegant. 

Coastal wines may be riding the wave of popularity at the minute but we shouldn’t forget that the other areas offer their own unique flavours.